It’s been one year ago to the day since Carroll Shelby passed away. The effervescent chicken farmer left many memories, along with world-beating American muscle. For many, myself included, the Shelby GT350, first introduced in 1965, remains one of the finest muscle cars of all-time. It’s a car that fully embodies the Shelby mantra, boasting brutish looks and enough power to stir earthquakes.
In remembrance of Shelby’s legacy, I visited the Shelby American headquarters in Las Vegas. But rather than drive the GT350 of old, I drove Shelby’s 2013 GT350: the best modern-day Mustang you can buy.
When Carroll Shelby unveiled the original GT350, the numeric in the title had nothing to do with horsepower. During deliberation with the folks at Ford, Carroll decided to take a break from juggling names and sought peace outside. When a Ford employee joined Carroll on the sidewalk, the conversation led to randomly speculating the distance between two buildings: “About 350 feet,” estimated the Ford employee, according to my tour guide at the Shelby museum. After that, the GT350 was born.
Today, the GT350 stands as the tamest of the Shelby Mustang corral, behind the 850-hp Super Snake and insane 1,000-hp Shelby 1000. And yet, "this is my favorite Shelby,” said company president, John Luft. “I love the Super Snake and Shelby 1000, but once I’d driven the GT350, I knew this was the car I wanted day-to-day.” Both of the mightier cars generally spend more time in the owner’s garage than on the road: “People buy these cars for bragging rights,” Luft continued. “They want to say: ‘I have 1000 hp.’”
For 2013, based on the Ford Mustang GT, the GT350 boasts either 525 hp or 624 hp, depending on whether one desires a supercharger. The car I’d be driving was the supercharged brute. Dressed in bright green, the GT350 boasts an impressive stance. The Shelby logo on the grille, trunk, hood and sides reminds you of the ominous beast underneath. Igniting all 624 ponies, it sounded like the deep rumble might cause Caesar’s Palace to crumble into dust. As good as all V-8 Mustangs sound, this sounded better.
The commotion amongst the general public as I exited the Shelby museum parking lot was palpable. I almost felt like Carroll himself, as onlookers whipped out their cell phone cameras as I roared by. Barely feathering the throttle, the rear tires became engulfed in smoke, and my hands worked overtime to catch its dancing tail. Having spent hours behind the wheel of the 662-hp Shelby GT500, this sensation surprised me. Despite 38 less horsepower, somehow the GT350 felt much faster.
This almost entirely derives from the magnificent job Shelby has done with the GT350’s 6-speed manual gearbox. The Shelby short throw shifter turns a solid, if not spongy, transmission into a tight, precise treasure. It feels like a racecar’s gearbox, with each gear slotting in with force, and yet ease. The ratios are also much shorter, meaning you're constantly working the stick. This initiates a sense of being alive and engaged, along with an intense feeling of speed. In the GT500, the ratios are long and tame, perfectly designed to crush the quarter-mile in only two shifts, but when first gear takes you to 60 mph, on normal roads, it doesn't require much rowing. At 60 mph in the GT350, you won't be far off redline in third.
The supercharged GT350 starts at $33,995 on top of the price of a Mustang GT. Customers usually pay between $85,000 to 89,000 all-in — although you can option a GT350 for less. That’s a lot of money for a Mustang; it’s considerably more than a GT500. But for the noise and shifter alone, every penny remains well spent. And if you’re lucky enough to possess a further $17,995, you can transform your GT350 with Shelby’s wide-body package; perhaps the most visually appealing item you can add to a Mustang, be it a V-6 or V-8.
With Shelby/Ford Racing suspension, Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar G2 tires, and Shelby Wilwood brakes and rotors, the handling of the GT350 drastically improves from the GT. While I didn’t have the opportunity to stretch its muscle on-track, the sweeping bends of the Nevada canyons showcased a poised, balanced, and yet somewhat sketchy demeanor.
Never do you feel entirely at ease with the beast. It’s like the family that announced they’re raising cheetahs alongside their children; no matter how much time it spends as a housepet, there's a predator just waiting to be awakened. That’s a trait every good muscle car should possess — in the same way an SRT Viper does, another American classic that Shelby lent his expertise to creating.
Despite the company losing its leader, the Shelby American banner continues to soar under the capable guidance of John Luft. The original GT350 was a car that Carroll, initially, felt reluctant to take on; he felt the Mustang name didn’t fit well enough with the image of raw power he intended to portray. But what he did was create an ever-lasting legacy; a car that collectors still swap for hundreds of thousands of dollars, and his name as a synonym for American performance.
The 2013 GT350 may never be held to the same lofty standards as the original, but that doesn’t mean it’s not justified. With incredible power, a noise gifted from the heavens, and a transmission stamped in excellence, the driving experience enthralls like every Shelby should. Carroll’s legacy lives.
Watch Torque.TV's excellent tribute to the great Carroll Shelby below.